Whether you have been celebrating or criticising the poverty estimates recently released by the Planning Commission depends, of course, whether you stand on the left or the right of the political spectrum. That would also probably account for your position on whether it is growth or the anti-poverty programmes that have led to the sharp reduction in poverty between 2004-05 and 2009-10.
At first sight, of course, high growth looks very likely to be the catalyst. The period had three years in which gross domestic product (GDP) growth was more than 9% per annum. The problem is, why hasn’t high growth in Bihar done better in tackling poverty? The state and its chief minister have been the poster boys of development, but the poverty numbers show that the percentage of people below the poverty line in Bihar went down from 54.4% in 2004-05 to 53.5% in 2009-10, nothing to write home about. Neighbouring Jharkhand, unsung and ignored, did much better, pulling down its poverty headcount from 45.3% to 39.1%. Contrast the sterling performance of Orissa, where the percentage of people under the poverty line went down from 57.2% in 2004-05 to 37% in 2009-10. And Orissa’s growth in per capita income over the period is lower than Bihar’s. These numbers suggest that growth is not enough to bring down poverty.
Do we need more social programmes then? But in Chhattisgarh, despite its much touted growth and much-ballyhooed public distribution system for foodgrains, the percentage of people below the poverty line went down only marginally, from 49.4% in 2004-05 to 48.7% in 2009-10.
How did Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik succeed while Bihar’s Nitish Kumar stumbled? Trouble is, Bihar seems to have done very little for rural poverty. Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the urban poverty headcount in Bihar fell from 43.7% to 39.4%. But the decline in the rural poverty percentage was miniscule, from 55.7% to 55.3%. In Chhattisgarh, the rural poverty headcount actually went up from 55.1% to 56.1%. In contrast, Orissa’s rural poverty headcount went down from 60.8% to 39.2%. The data imply that growth in Bihar has been urban-centric, while development in Orissa has not.
But here’s a quiz: Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, poverty went down from 40% of the population to 17.4%, a decline of a huge 22.6 percentage points, even better than Orissa’s record, in which state? Was it among the fast-growing states of the West or the South? Not a chance. Is it one of the states frequently held up as having elaborate anti-poverty programmes, such as Andhra Pradesh with its subsidised rice and high work participation rate under the national rural jobs guarantee scheme? Nope. It is Tripura, known not for its economic growth but for being the last bastion of the Reds. The feat is all the more remarkable because its neighbouring states have all shown an increase in the percentage of people under the poverty line over the period. In Mizoram, the percentage increased from 15.4% to 21.1%; in Manipur, it went up from 37.9% to 47.1%; and in Nagaland, it went up from a mere 8.8% in 2004-05 to 20.9% in 2009-10—a disgraceful performance. Even Assam saw a rise in the proportion of its people under the poverty line. In short, the state must be doing something right, although we don’t have the faintest idea about it. We need to find out fast, so that the nation can learn from Tripura and adopt its model of development, whatever that may be.
But Tripura is not the state with the least poverty, that prize goes to another shining example of success, the Andaman and Nicobar islands. They have the lowest percentage of people under the poverty line. Only 0.4% of its population, or a mere thousand people, are poor. No wonder the tourism department calls the islands “a veritable Garden of Eden”. The islands had the lowest percentage of poor people (3%) in 2004-05 also and they’ve maintained their lead. Sun, sand, coconuts and, most important, fewer people seem to be a good antidote to poverty.
What has been the record of the national capital? Strangely enough, right under the noses of our leaders, the percentage of people under the poverty line in Delhi went up from 13% in 2004-05 to 14.2% in 2009-10. Worse, the percentage of poor people in urban Delhi increased from 12.9% to 14.4% over the period. What have you been doing, Sheila Dixit, not paying your servants or what? More likely, it’s because of Delhi’s message to the poorer states: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…….”
And finally, it’s a bit strange nobody has thought it fit to criticise the administration of the Union Territory of Daman and Diu. Lo and behold, according to the data put out by the Planning Commission, the administrators of this Union Territory have let the percentage of people under the poverty line increase from a mere 8.8% of the population in 2004-05 to 33.3% in 2009-10. That is simply not done.
What could have prompted this vast increase in poverty? Daman is, of course, a magnet for the parched millions of Gujarat, fleeing their dry state for booze-soaked weekends in the Union Territory. Is it possible that those who conducted the survey in Daman succumbed to the influence and filled in their survey forms in an alcoholic haze?
Manas Chakravarty looks at trends and issues in the financial markets. Comment at email@example.com
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